Today we took the kids to the Getty Center in the mountains of Los Angeles. The architecture is superb; the art work terrible–a testament to money in the absence of taste. The only piece that brought a smile and that captured the interest of the kids was the outdoors sculpture pictured here.
My interest in how soil and rock interacts over time was piqued by this fountain, which I first saw new and pristine many years ago. Now the dripping water is coloring the rocks and nature is replicated. Not quite an analogue for mine closure, but at least an artistic rendition of the long-term flow of water over rocks.
The views of Los Angeles and the surrounding mountains are superb in the air just cleaned by vast storms. The picture above is a view to the east of snow on the distant mountains. In between is the dense urban development that is the city.
All this set me to thinking of the people involved in closure of old mine sites. Afterall here live a vast variety of people–how many different people are involved in mine closure is the question that grabbed my mind as I sat half-snoozing in the car home on a crowded highway.
Here is the Mine Closure People Alphabet that I composed:
Accountants and all the financial folk who are going to have to find the money to pay for closure. Good accountants will make adequate provision for closure costs starting at the beginning of mine life. Bad accountants will postpone the inevitable and then very skilled accountants are needed to find money in a non-profit generating company.
Backwoodsman and all the people who love and enjoy nature and want to see the site returned to nature and the wild so they may go hunting fishing, riding, camping and dreaming in an area free of human intervention. These folk may be called the locals, the community, the ancient owners of the site. Or they may be newly rich fleeing the city for nature and a bit of peace.
Civil Engineers and all the other engineers who have to design, construct, and ultimately maintain the civil works that are part of a well-executed mine closure. It is one of the ironies of mine closure that closure of a worked-out mine is primarily a great civil engineering undertaking. The mining engineers have generally moved on to new mine to extract more coal, gold, silver, and those other metals & minerals on which society depends for it well—being. The civil engineer is left behind to clean up and make the landscape stable.
Designers who will have to formulate the closure landscape, locate the mounds and berms, set the courses for new streams and wetlands, specify where the vegetation will go and hence formulate a natural-like landscape as has been done at the Wapisiw Lookout site, the first close oil sands tailings impoundment in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Environmentalists who are the highly trained specialist who have to compile the environmental studies and write the closure environmental impact statements to justify the chosen closure approach. Included in this group of specialists are the risk assessors, the health and safety specialists, the vegetation folk who have to make grass & trees grown where they would not natural do so, and so on and on.
Fish and Fowl Specialists who have to decide how best to reclaim the site so that fish and fowl are not affected and may even come to once again inhabit the site.
Geologists & Geomorphologists who have to define the geology of the site and surrounding region so that we may apply the best principles of science to make for a site that is stable in the long term. That is where the geomorphologist comes in; for in my opinion, they are key to successful mine closure, for if we do not invoke and emulate natural geomorphic processes, we will soon be back to re-close the site.
Hydrologists and all those hydro folk who deal with water from the time if falls as rain, runs across the surface, infiltrates to groundwater and becomes polluted at ill-closed mines.
Inspectors who must come to check on closure construction works and in the many years after closure to confirm that the site is performing as intended.
Journalists who will have to be kept informed and who are charged with writing about closure in a responsible manner so as to keep the public informed and hopefully supportive of closure operations.
Knowledgeable NGOs who will have opinions, arguments, and rationalizations for ever more expensive solutions. It is best to know them, communicate with them, and reach a compromise wherever possible—for sometimes they are right.
Lawyers who have to find and interpret the rules and regulations and tell us how they affect the closure planning and construction now and in the long-term future.
Managers of all types and levels of authority who have to manage the many teams that will form to plan, design, approve, and implement mine closure works.
Native Peoples are those who think they have been there forever, may have been there for 100 to 1,000 years, or may have come but recently and feel ownership of the site. They may have a treaty from the Crown, a legal title, or may be mere possessors of the land around the mine. Either way you should deal with them for they will be there when you are long gone.
Operations technicians who will be required to do the hands-on work at the site including groundwater well monitoring, to control of the water treatment plants.
Permitting specialists who will have their hands full identifying the many permits that have to be obtained to proceed. Theirs is a job of patience, skill, and necessity for every mine being closed is sure to be where many permits are required to do everything from dig, to plant, to divert streams and rivers.
Quality Control and Quality Assurance practitioners who must make sure we do what we say we will do and that we do it in accordance with pre-formulated plans and procedures.
Regulators who have the most difficult job of all: make sure the closure works are done properly, for if they fail, you can be sure the taxpayer will land up paying in the long term.
Specialists in disciplines too many to list, from the alchemist to the zoologist—you will be introduced to most of them as you proceed through this course.
Treatment specialists including those who may have to design, build, and operate the water treatment plants so often needed to clean-up polluted runoff and seepage from the closed mine site and hence ensure that downstream waters are not contaminated but instead return to pristine conditions where wild-life may once again flourish.
Underground miners who will have to plan closure of the underground mine workings so that they are not accessible in the long-term, so that they do not subside to disrupt the surface, and so that they do not become a source of polluted water forever.
Visionaries who are the people I would describe as being responsible for looking into the future to tell us what may occur so that we may choose to provide for postulated future events or to leave those problems to future generations. In this category fall those advocates of global warming who are even now demanding more and more of mine closure works to deal with speculated global warming scenarios of serious proportions.
Workers of all types and skills who will be the people who come with the contractors to demolish old buildings, remove equipment, regrade slopes, and construct surface water management structures.
X, Y, and Z stand in for all the rest, from mystics to seers, from labor union bosses to capitalists seeking to develop wind farms, from bloggers (like me) to zealots of all persuasions. And do not forget the politicians without whom nothing will succeed in difficult circumstances.